The waitress was new.
He took more meals at the diner than he did at home, and was familiar with the staff. She was new and refreshingly fresh.
The other girls knew him by name, Denise flirted, but not as much as she used to. Laney made a point not to go to his table anymore, even if he sat in her area.
That is why he got the new girl. Laney sent her out, bright white Keds squeaking on the floor, fresh pad open to take his order.
She was a redhead, freckles thick over the bridge of her nose. She had a soft body, not fat but a little too round in the waist, as the hips. He could see her in middle age being one of those women who wouldn’t be able to tie her own shoes, but not yet. Right now she was near as perfect as a young woman could get.
He wondered if the freckles ran across her shoulders? Down her back?
She reminded him a lot of an old girlfriend. Back when he was young and handsome, back when girls were conquests for him. She had been a redhead too. She had been a cheerleader. She had been a huge disappointment when she got pregnant.
Normally he didn’t ask so early, not the first night he met a girl. Not even the second or third. He usually waited a week. Let them get to know him, know he was harmless really. Let them talk to the other girls first.
But Laney was here tonight, and Laney would tell her quick.
So he asked, “Will you take me home with you tonight? To spend the night?”
The shock on her face he expected and was happy to see it was shock and nothing more. Sometimes shock turned to disgust. Sometimes to anger. When he was lucky it was eagerness. He thought he saw a little eager in the way her mouth turned up at the corner.
“I’ll pay you,” he said. He gave her his price.
She disappeared in the back with the squeak of a shoe, the swish of a door. Laney was back there, she would tell it like it was.
The large silver clock over the counter ticked. Another waitress washed the counter at the bar, trying to look at him without looking at him. They all knew, and they all waited to see who he would ask.
She reappeared sans apron, grandmotherly brown should bag over one arm.
“Shifts almost over anyway,” she said. She took his arm when he offered it. Walked close to him as she led him to her car.
At her apartment, she asked, “How will you get home?”
He told her he’d call his driver to come get him.
“I’ve got to shower first,” she said, “I smell like older burgers and grease.”
She locked the door to the bathroom, he heard the click. It didn’t bother him. Gave him time to look around.
Her apartment was tiny. Most of them were. Hers was smaller than most. The kitchen and living room together. The bathroom she had locked herself in. A bedroom, dark and secret.
She kept it well clean. No dust and dirt, discarded cans, empty pizza boxes. She was young, working hard, earning good tips. He bet she saved. She wanted to go places in the world.
On top of her huge and ancient television was a photo. He walked over, picked it up. The woman looked familiar. An older version of the girl. Her mother then. Maybe he was wrong, and her soft curves wouldn’t turn to ugly bloat. The woman was beautiful, stunning even.
Sitting the photo aside he turned away as he heard the water stop with a squeal.
His waitress stepped out, hair damp, wrapped in a large and soft towel. He thought for a moment about asking her about the woman in the photo. Who was she? Why did her photo stir such a sense of de ja vu in him?
But her freckles did go across her shoulders, and when she dropped the towel he saw they covered the tops of her breasts too.
He forgot about the photo.
Many hours later he woke from a dream, a nightmare really. His last conquest before college, the cheerleader, nineteen years ago more or less. In the dream, she was telling him again that she was pregnant, that the child was his. He was having none of it. He had called her horrible names, said things he didn’t really mean because he did love her. But he couldn’t be a father.
In his nightmare, she had killed herself.
In reality, he didn’t know what became of her. He left, went to college, lost his looks, gained his wealth.
Gently he raised himself from the bed and dressed. His waitress shifted a little in her sleep. Taking out his wallet he counted out the bills. All hundreds, to the amount he promised her.
Light from the lamp outside touched her side of her face. Her red hair. Her freckles. So beautiful. So familiar.
Suddenly he knew why the woman in the photo had looked so familiar. Why hours of being with his waitress had given him nightmares instead of deep and restful sleep.
She looked just like her mother did, nineteen years ago…
Inspired by Recognize.
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